Get More Than an Education with an Online Degree


Get More Than an Education with an Online Degree

Getting a college degree while holding down a full-time job, raising a family, serving in the military and managing all the other things that life throws at you isn’t easy. But in the end, it’s worth it.

In addition to earning a degree and gaining skills that can improve your career and income, you’ll also develop behaviors that will make you an invaluable asset to your community.

Take a look at these former University of Oklahoma students who are putting the PACS core values to work in their lives and making a difference in their communities.

Aley Cristelli

Aley Cristelli holds an online Human and Health Services Administration master’s degree from OU. Cristelli started Pine Pantry while going to school and working full time. Pine Pantry has six locations and offers free food and other necessities to those in the community.

Cristelli started the pantries to make food insecurity less of a burden for those in need and as a way for people to connect with and care for their neighbors.

Five years later, the “take something, leave something” pine cabinets are thriving in locations across the Oklahoma City metro, including all the Sunnyside Diner locations.

“Pine Pantry offers a resource to help the community take care of itself,” Cristelli said. “If someone is able to provide for their neighbors, they place their items in the pantry. In return, if someone is hungry and needs help, they are welcome to take what they need. I like to think of it as a modern cup of sugar. You would always help your neighbor if they needed help. This just takes away the need for them to ask.”

Through their commitment to helping others, they’re making connections, further developing skills, and leading more balanced lives.

Esthela Casale

Esthela Casale, an avid cyclist, earned a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership from OU in 2021. While going to school, working full time and raising her two sons, Casale led community group cycling rides, worked with area veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other health issues, and taught cycling classes at the Oklahoma School for the Blind.

She later started a nonprofit for cyclists, teaching students the basics of cycling, including bike handling skills and the mechanics of cycling.

“It’s not easy to climb up hills. Having the skills and ability to coach people through this process is very rewarding,” she said. “I like to help people understand that there’s power lingering inside them, and learning to use that is a skill that can help in any situation. With every encounter, I encourage people to love themselves enough to create a positive change in their lives, even if it starts with small changes.”

Aaron Hudgins

Aaron Hudgins also completed his bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership from OU in 2021. Hudgins, a master sergeant with the Oklahoma National Guard, decided to finish his degree to honor his late wife, JJ, who took her own life after an injury ended her Army career.

In addition to his job a human resource manager for the Army, Hudgins now volunteers as a member of the Army Survivor Advisory Working Group. He’s using his OU experience along with his own personal story to help others.

“The program has really given me a new lease on life and what I can do. I’m looking at different avenues and things in life that I want to accomplish that I was never looking at before. Now, I’m looking at where I can make a difference somewhere else, where can I take what I’ve learned and apply it,” Hudgins said. “I learned that I want to give back. That’s why you join the military, to protect and serve and help others that can’t protect themselves, and I found a lot of nonprofit programs that are veteran-driven, and now I have a direction I want to go in.”

These are just a few of the many OU students who earned more at OU than a piece of paper.

Through their commitment to helping others, they’re making connections, further developing skills, and leading more balanced lives.

Do you want to enrich your own life inside and outside of the classroom? See if one of our degrees is right for you.

If you’re a community member or alumnus and would like to make it possible for other students to get their own degrees and serve their communities, here’s how you can help.

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Tami Althoff

Tami Althoff holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She is a reporter with more than 20 years’ experience working for newspapers, including The Oklahoman. She has covered everything from breaking news to local music and art. She loves sports, especially OU football and basketball games, where she often embarrasses her children by yelling too loudly.